Why William Petersen leaving CSI is such bad news

Gil Grissom, we're really going to miss you...

What? William Petersen is leaving CSI: Crime Scene Investigation? And worse, he’s doing so to spend more time working in “The Theatre”? Oh dear lord, what is it with actors and “The Theatre”? Why do they waste their time, pottering around on a stage in front of handfuls of bored and uncomfortable people, shouting at other actors?

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I share my view of “The Theatre” with Mark and Jeremy from Peep Show who, in the last series, were appalled at being duped into seeing a friend’s play. “You mean, we could be at home watching television, rather than being here?” the pair chuntered in wonderment before, with a joyous sense of liberation, they decided to skip the second act.

But, my views of “The Theatre” aside, this is bad, bad news. William Petersen is the beating heart of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, the original and, of course, the best of the CSI “franchise” (horrible word).

Petersen’s character, Gil Grissom, is crucial – he is the keeper of the show’s history. To many – including me – Grissom IS CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. When he took a sabbatical a couple of series ago to work in ‘The Theatre’ (oh dear), the show lost its soul and its rudder. He might not appear that much these days, but when he’s not around, his absence is keenly felt.

Petersen says he will return for occasional guest spots but, really, so what? I don’t want him around for guest spots, though doubtless CSI’s US network, CBS, will probably bite off his hand up to the elbow to get him back, even if it’s just for the occasional episode. And he’s going to continue as an executive producer, apparently, but this means nothing. He belongs in front of the camera, not behind it.

Grissom’s incomparable value is his constancy. He has always been there. Even when he isn’t around much in an episode, his presence hovers over everything and everyone involved. The team (now depleted after the albeit welcome departures of Jorja Fox and Gary Dourdan) have been moulded by Grissom in his image.

Of course, it could be argued, with some merit, that CSI: Crime Scene Investigation isn’t the show it once was, having jumped the shark a long time ago. Well, yes, you could say that, though I wouldn’t agree about jumping the shark – it still has flashes of brilliance, even in substandard episodes. And it remains, for my money, probably the best crime procedural on television. Possibly, even, the best ever.

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I’ll keep watching Petersen-less CSI (he departs about halfway through the next series). In the meantime, you’ll find me weeping over my boxed sets.